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THE FIRST CONVOYS - THE CONVOY SYSTEM *

1)SOUTH ATLANTIC CONVOYS


The convoy system seen exclusively by the economical standpoint, represented a negative factor, a calamity due to long and inevitable delays in ports; a natural consequence in view of the safety, although representing an evident demonstration of sovereignty, in spite of enemy menace, the maintenance of keeping the shipping lanes free, deemed necessary to the war effort made with a too great burden by the nation and its allies. Throughout 1943, 8 Brazilian merchants were sent to the bottom along Brazilian coastline; being 5 of them when sailing in a convoy screen.


The same were caught by the lack of an effective escort protection. They were merchants Brasiloide, Tutoia,  Itapage, Cisne Branco and Campos, the last Brazilian ship sunk in the war. The remaining 3 were attacked when sailing in convoys: Merchant Afonso Pena failed  in exchanging signals, lost the train and as a straggler soon became an easy prey when was attacked and sunk while at maximum speed trying to reach port at Rio.Merchant Pelotas Lloyd sailed from Trinidad and was escorted by two Brazilian Sub Chasers until reaching Salinas a few miles from Belem harbor. Upon entering the mouth of Amazon river, she was attacked and sunk.


Merchant Bage astern in the screen of the same convoy was ordered by the Commodore to sail  independently keeping the train at sight in view of too much smoke she belched, a dangerous attractive to any prowling intruder. As a straggler, she became an helpless victim when was caught by U-604, adding one more loss to the Brazilian merchant Navy. She was 29th loss of  a merchant  in the submarine war.



First convoy escort system was introduced by Brazilian Navy during the period of broken relations with axis powers from April to Late August 1942. The system comprised the traffic between Recife and  Bahia. With the escalation of the submarine war, these protective measures were extended as far south as Rio de Janeiro.



Adm. Doenitz and his aides



Typical view of one convoy sailing shadowed by naval escorts



French Atlantic bases at the Bay of Biscay



Submarine pens at Lorient occupied by German U boats.



Brazilian sub chaser change signs through Aldis lamp with a merchant during a convoy bound to Trinidad. Underwater the perilous U boats, sailing undetected, stealthily as an ever present threat. Brazilian Navy received under Lend Lease several modern ships and soon put them all in action especially in convoy duties, thus gradually relieving the Fourth fleet ships for the task of hunting and killing Uboats in Mid Atlantic.



US Navy blimp is seen above one Brazilian patrol ship somewhere in the south Atlantic. Seventeen of that type provided a very efficient escort on the Brazilian coast. 



Brazilian Navy vessels in south Atlantic seen during one escort convoy duties. In foreground the Brazilian flag unfurled.



Scout cruiser Bahia, of the Brazilian Navy launching depth charges to defend allied convoy in the Atlantic South. Photo taken aboard Corvette Carioca. 


https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/c9/036731_%E2%80%93_Cruzador_Bahia_lan%C3%A7ando_uma_

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A large convoy composed by a dozen ships sails off the Brazilian coast under the cover of Brazilian Navy vessels.


The Northeast Naval force (FNN), took control of all trains up to Rio de Janeiro latitude, and South Naval one escorted the ships southward. In the beginning, U S Navy ships shared the escort duties with Brazilian vessels all alongside the coast. As Brazilian Navy received more ships, American units were detached other assignments and only sporadically took part in a few convoys, except for those between Recife – Trinidad, whose responsibility laid on US Navy ships, but often with the concourse of Brazilian units. The first convoy ever to sail was one Recife – Rio de Janeiro bound, on 24 Sep 1942, and arrived on 2 Oct.


The train was composed by 15 ships, being 3 vessel from Brazilian Navy, 12 merchants (all nationals) and one Panamanian. Cruiser Milwaukee and destroyers Sommers and Jouet flanked on American side. With the imminent and decisive mission to battle the uboats, now prowling warily  South Atlantic waters, the paramount task was securing free shipping lanes and convoy protection on Brazilian merchants connected to the interlocking system at Trinidad. Plans and directives distinguished convoys as follows:

Rio de Janeiro   Trinidad   JT.              Rio de Janeiro  Florianópolis     RF

Trinidad  Rio De Janeiro   TJ               Florianópolis  Rio de Janeiro     FR


The longest route, JT, Rio – Trinidad, was split into two sections, with alternating escorts relieved off Recife. The  trip, lasted a 12 day average in favorable conditions with 12 knots. The return normally took 2 more days due to the Amazon estuary strong currents. In the beginning, when the allies were caught by operation Paukenschlag. The ships often sailed independently, being easy preys for the wolfpacks attacks on daylight.


When the losses augmented dramatically and convoy system was established with more efficient escorts, the Germans changed tactics and shadowed their targets by day and  attacked by night.   In May 1942, Adm. Doenitz had at his disposal another batch of new u-boats ready to be thrown into the fray. He deemed it was more appropriate to send them to probe south Atlantic waters. In May 16th he issued a directive in the sense that all armed merchant from South American nations would then be targeted, exception made to those of Argentina and Chile.


In such occasion, Adm Doenitz had full knowledge about 7 Brazilian merchants sunk by German u-boats. Later, he justified the fact that his captains could not recognize a neutral identity of those ships, once they often sailed zigzagging courses, many of them already armed, grey paintings, without flag or any other distinguished national identification. Moreover, the shrewd Admiral was fully aware about the announcement made by Brazilian Air Ministry late May 1942, stating that Brazilian patrol aircrafts had effectively attacked an axis submarine and would continue to do so. Thus, on July 4th, upon a conference held with Hitler and Adm Raeder back in June, the sentence was issued, and permission was granted to attack Brazilian shipping lanes.


During June when studies and preparations were under way, to extend operational area down the Equator line, the German admiral made a consultation to his Minister of Foreign Affairs, Joachim von Ribbentrop, whether the assigned area could be extended as far south as the River Plate estuary, where u-boats acting freely could lay havoc among merchants, principally those carrying beef and other commodities to sustain the British.


Permission was denied although no objections were imposed concerning Adm Doenitz Major State planned operations. For that reason, he felt as if he received a white letter to act as he pleased. With the fall of France, a wide area with 200 miles covering the port of Lorient south of the mouth of Gironde was under heavy patrols and occupied by a German strong garrison. Air communications with Germany were made by night flights and submarines, which were brought in increasing numbers from their original berths in Baltic ports.


At the mouth of river Loire, in the Belle Island, Germans deployed numerous battalions and fortifications pinpointed at the Bay of Biscay, including La Rochelle with its outer port, La Pallice where excellent dockyards already existed for French built submarines. Once all plans for incursions along Brazilian coast were approved in the first days of July 1942, the first spearheading group of 10 u-boats, being 8 of 500 tons and 2 of 740, sailed from their newly conquered pens, strategically located at Atlantic coast, with the mission of intercepting promising hunting grounds at South Atlantic waters.


Sailing undetected due to scare air patrols in the area of Atlantic narrows, the wolf pack crossed the Equator line towards Saint Paul Rocks, some 300 miles off Natal on the corner of Brazilian northeastern bulge. Having for the first time the scenery of deserted rocks in sight, the U-boats fully emerged, gathered together and one by one were delivered through their milch cow the precious vital fuel oil from U-460 to supply the subs with necessary endurance to cover the vastness of southern seas.


For German submariners, the contact with that distant combat scenario, at first sight seemed quite attractive for an absolute lack of any danger above and on surface, nothing resembling the cold treacherous North Sea waters, where British Navy and RAF coastal Command had eyes everywhere. Thus insofar their new arena looked like a quite promising, a continuation of U S Atlantic coast happy times.



Above a brief documentary on the ingenious way American shipbuilders found to hastily produce more cargo ships than those sunk by German and Italian submarines in the Atlantic. Roughly 2,700 of these dubbed  "ugly duckling" ships were built in dozen shipyards across USA. 


 

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